BY MARK GODFREY
We have reached the third round of our Scottish Cup odyssey and having followed the good people of St. Cuthbert Wanderers for the first two rounds, their elimination means The Football Pink switches itâ€™s allegiance to their conquerors, Auchinleck Talbot. Iâ€™d like to thank all the guys from St. Cuthbertâ€™s who helped us with the blog and wish them all the best for the rest of their season.
The second round clash between the two pitted Saints right up against it. Talbot are renowned for being the top side in Junior football in Scotland with an incredible two season unbeaten streak in the League on their CV, and despite a brave attempt by the Kirkcudbright club and a superb rearguard action in particular by Wanderers â€˜keeper, Jack Johnston, Auchinleck were far too strong and ran out 4-0 winners against 10-men St. Cuthbertâ€™s.
So, as a result, we have to fire up Wikipedia and find out what we can about our new charges. Firstly, what of the place itself? Well, seemingly the East Ayrshire town has very little of extraordinary note to mention. It has a population of around 3,500 and is a former mining community that, like so many others in the area and the industrial north, had its industry decimated by pit closures throughout the 1970â€™s and 1980â€™s. It might even be fair to say that Auchinleck is a place most known and defined on a wider scale by its football club.
The history of The Bot began in 1909 when local bigwig, Lord Talbot of Malahide, gifted them their Beechwood Park home, the place where they still reside today and whose capacity just about exceeds the number of residents of the town. In turn, the club adopted his name in honour of his incredible philanthropy (it is said that he never charged the club a penny in rent).
Talbotâ€™s list of honours is pretty impressive throughout their existence but from the 1970â€™s onwards they have enjoyed several golden periods and grown to become probably the most successful and feared club in the Junior game having won the Scottish Junior Cup a record 10 times, (they are the current holders), and been winners of the various Leagues theyâ€™ve been part of on numerous occasions. They are the reigning champions of the West of Scotland Super League Premier Division and have not tasted defeat in that sphere since the final day of the 2011/12 season.
The third round draw paired Auchinleck with Scottish League 1 side, Stranraer, with the visit to Stair Park scheduled for November 2nd. Many educated observers believe that the top Junior teams such as Talbot are more than a match for many of Scotlandâ€™s lower league clubs, so in the build-up to this intriguing game, I caught up with Auchinleck defender Willie Lyle who gave us his thoughts.
â€œIt’s hard to gauge, but there isn’t too much difference between some of the top Junior teams and a lot of Senior teams in my opinion. Of course, we give ourselves a chance, but they will be favourites being the Senior team and at home, rightly so, but we know what we can produce at our best. They will more than likely have us watched over the next couple of weeks so they know what to expect. It’s a one-off game and if we turn up on the day I’m confident we can get a result.â€
Willie has bags of experience at Senior level having played previously for Ayr United, Stenhousemuir, Raith Rovers and their Cup opponents, Stranraer.
â€œI was at Stair Park for a season and it’s a cracking wee club but I only started about 12 games and a handful of sub appearances due to injury, so personally it wasn’t a great time of my career, but I still speak to a few of the committee and made a few good friends in my time there. â€œ
â€œMoving to the Junior ranks wasn’t really a hard decision to be honest. I had other offers from Senior clubs, but when Talbot manager Tommy Sloan spoke to me and told me he was interested it didn’t take much time for me to decide Talbot was the right move for me. I grew up watching Talbot as a kid going to the games with my Gran and Pap, plus I’m a local boy so it was a no brainer!â€
Lyle believes Auchinleck have enough quality to trouble anyone and their prodigious energy and excellent team spirit will be a key factor on the 2nd of November.
â€œWe have got a few players on their day are unplayable in David Gormley and Bryan Young, but most of all we have a great work ethic and desire to win as a team and that, more than anything, makes us a good side.â€
Willieâ€™s first season at Beechwood was memorable, not only for the success on the pitch but also slotting so easily into the close-knit atmosphere of the dressing room.
â€œI couldn’t have asked for a better first season to win three trophies and going unbeaten for the full season in the league was special, but winning the Scottish Junior Cup tops it all. Having my daughter, Ava, on the pitch after the game was a great feeling and the couple of days after were fantastic.â€
â€œWe’ve got quite a few characters at Talbot, to be fair. The manager Tommy Sloan is the only manager I know every home or away game, who goes out and shoots into the goals then celebrates when he scores!!! Plus, Iâ€™ve never seen him with anything but Talbot gear on. Bryan Young loves the sound of his own voice. He never shuts up! David Gormley likes a prank too. Recently there was a dead bird put in my bag. He claims he had nothing to do with it but he’s suspect number 1!â€
Weâ€™d like to wish Willie and the rest of the Auchinleck Talbot lads all the best for the game at Stair Park, where The Football Pink hopes to be present. Keep following the blog for updates on The Road to Hampden.
You can follow Willie Lyle on Twitter @w2lyle